I-Space 3D Immersive Environment Powered by Silicon Graphics Systems Now Available to European Medical and Research Centers
To greatly enhance clinical treatment and medical research capabilities, with special emphasis on genomics data mining, proteomics data mining and translational medicine, Erasmus Medical Center added server and visualization systems from Silicon Graphics to its hospital and research facility in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The SGI® technology, installed late last year, is used for collaboration and visualization of large amounts of data, applied in neurosciences, cardiovascular, and cancer fields, as well as monitoring fetal development.
Erasmus University Medical Center (Erasmus MC) has developed 3D volume rendering software, capable of converting 2D medical images to 3D. The software runs in an immersive, interactive environment called I-space, developed at Erasmus MC. For the commercial launch of the I-space model, the medical center selected Barco projectors and Silicon Graphics Prism(TM) visualization systems as image generators to create the four-sided, 3x3x3- metre, 3D world intended for multidisciplinary collaboration.
Because the prototype model at Erasmus MC surpassed even the highest expectations of researchers and clinicians, the medical center spun off a Rotterdam-based company, Crosslinks, which is now beginning to market I-space to hospitals and medical centers throughout Europe in collaboration with SGI and Barco.
The original I-space at Erasmus MC was developed in close cooperation with medical staff that use the technology regularly for complex diagnoses. While I-space, in theory, could be used for various Virtual Reality applications the proprietary software is specifically targeted to the medical and biology fields.
"We chose the Silicon Graphics system for I-space because we needed hardware that was both suitable for high-performance computing and also delivered superb graphical capabilities," said Ronald Nanninga, founder and managing director of Crosslinks. "There are eight graphics pipes in the system -- you are actually standing inside the data -- so we required a visualization computer that is powerful enough to really do the rendering of the 3D software in a very efficient way, and only SGI had the appropriate solution. When we began working on the development of I-space, we used an older SGI system, but with this brand new Prism, our performance really improved. Frame rate has gone up from 4 to 15, and that tells you something about how easy it is to move around large data sets, turn them around, and zoom in and zoom out. It's easier to make a diagnosis together with other medical personnel when the surgical reality is right in front of you, rather than seeing it alone, just on a small computer screen."
A Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system with 8 Intel® Itanium® 2 processors, 8 ATI® FireGL(TM) graphics processors and 12GB of memory is used to drive I-space. I-space enables researchers to explore vast amounts of genomics and proteomics data in an infinite 3D world. It also presents clinicians with new ways to investigate datasets from all kinds of 3D imaging modalities, including MRI and CT scans. I-space uses 8 Barco projectors for the four walls: the floor, and the left, right and front. A 3D mouse uses four tracking devices -- one in each corner, enabling the system to recognize the relative position of the mouse -- and a virtual stick, which allows the user to touch an object, push it on one side, zoom in/zoom out, and even slice the object. Stereoscopic glasses complete the immersive 3D experience. I-space was specifically created to allow doctors and researchers to discuss -- among different disciplines -- the data they are all seeing in the immersive visualization.
"We built I-space ourselves in collaboration with the folks from SGI and Barco," said Prof. Dr. Peter van der Spek, a geneticist by training who is also an engineer. "Barco has the projectors, but the Silicon Graphics Prism has all the graphics pipes that superbly work together with Barco. It's cutting-edge technology and the power of Intel inside the Prism system is also very important for us, so we are very, very happy with the technology that drives I-space."
I-space at Erasmus Medical Center
At Erasmus MC, I-space is used for two reasons: research and clinical diagnostics. The clinical application deals with medical visualization in 3D of different modalities such as MRI scans, CT scans, and ultrasound images. Doctors can walk through an MRI scan of a patient while discussing it with their colleagues. Multidisciplinary discussions are routine. For instance, for a patient with a brain tumor, the neurologist, with the neurosurgeon, are together in I-space and can decide what the best strategy is to remove the tumor from the brain. Or, for a person with a lung tumor, the thorax surgeon is there with the lung specialist, and they look to see where the tumor is positioned. Is it an area accessible to the thorax surgeon, and how can he most optimally approach the tumor? Are there large blood vessels going through the tumor? Is the tumor close to the heart? All of this has to be taken into account when removing a tumor.